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Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Beacon Bits - Not Just Another MLK Day

This year's weather for the annual Martin Luther King Day Parade in Beacon was frigid cold but the warmth of the song, the signs and slogans touched hearts and souls and even puppy paws! I took Clara, my overnight visitor from the Puppies Behind Bars program at the local correctional facility, to the MLK Day Parade. Clara is in training to be a service dog for a veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan war or for a first responder; she is exceptionally good with her commands and easy to handle, so I thought I would give it a try. 

Clara made my day even brighter than the strong mid-January sun that was shining on the diverse group of a hundred or so individuals who still know how to march for freedom, peace, social justice and sanity in these days of unrest and division with ongoing racism, sexism, ageism, and outright immorality in our contemporary society. While it is hard to believe it is over 50 years ago that MLK was killed, the issues remain, and so the marching and the singing continue.

Clara, the PBB puppy, got into the rhythm of the singing during the half hour walk amongst friends escorted by a fire truck and police car. Notwithstanding the politicians and religious leaders, the usual participants were notably present and are still going strong. Members of Beacon Sloop Club and Clearwater and Pete Seeger's daughter remain the standard bearers who are committed to this act of civil duty and responsibility to celebrate MLK's life and to increase awareness of current issues still in need of healing. The parade offers lessons of activism to the youth who were with their elders and the activity is congruent with the true spirit of volunteerism that is now widely promoted on MLK Day. 

Food for thought: Perhaps this year's MLK Day Parade felt very special because I had a furry companion by my side who represents an act of social justice that I engage in routinely since I have volunteered in what I call my prison ministry for over five years. And perhaps it was imperative to show up this year because of the impending impeachment trials in the Senate. But mostly, it is a source of pride to know that the Beacon community continues to hold the march and associated activities during the day while there are still some states that do not even honor the federal MLK holiday. Beacon stands out because of its right actions. It was and will continue to be a 'beacon' of hope and direction. May it be so!

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Beacon Bits -- Healing in Community

I recently chose to have a custom made handbag constructed from a deceased relative's unique Nepalese jacket by the women working in the local nonprofit 501c3 social enterprise, Unshattered. I had previously read about the newsworthy organization which focuses on meaningful work with purpose to prevent relapse and to aid in the recovery of women with opioid addition. I was intrigued about this nonprofit approach for recovery-related work training/apprenticeship and was quite impressed with its origins and steady progress since its inception. I was particularly pleased to see that the founder and CEO of Unshattered, Kelly Lyndgaard, was given a Women in Business award in December 2019 for creating and successfully managing this unique healing community. In addition, Unshattered was the 2019 recipient of the Innovation in Philanthropy Award from the Mid-Hudson Valley Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals.  Both awards were well-earned within Dutchess County after Unshattered had previously received recognition from the White House in 2018 when increased funding for recovery initiatives was made into law.

So it was good timing for me to get more acquainted with Unshattered when making my custom design request and picking up the beautiful product right before New Year's. Despite the recent awards, it was business 'as usual' since production was ongoing and in full swing as the holidays approached; in addition, it was a perfect kick-off for another year of recovery for the women I met who designed and made my personal item of remembrance. 
Design and manufacture team, Lois (left) and Dea (right)
I love my special handbag and believe it might be the first of a very special collection I will continue to pursue! I was thoroughly touched by the attention to detail and the loving care that was placed into the finished project that I entrusted to workers who became personally known to me as they listened to why I chose to have the bag made in the first place and how pleased I was with the outcome. I sensed their overwhelming pride in their work and their appreciation for the well-deserved praise and genuine support I had made towards their recovery. It was a win-win proposition for all of us. And what women doesn't appreciate a new handbag? And who wouldn't be proud to wear the designer signature of the 'unshattered' logo on their shoulder when receiving compliments and then being able to share the back story of this amazing healing community?
One-of-a-kind messenger style handbag named "Molly" for a woman in recovery
Food for thought:  Hand-made items have always been close to my heart, both personally and professionally. I have witnessed firsthand the value of productive activity and how therapeutic goal-directed purposeful tasks work for the best interest of groups and for individuals. So the idea of Unshattered did not feel unfamiliar to me. But the scale and success and mission of this kind of work for the good of our society is the wow factor; it is not only timely, it is imperative for people to work together for personal healing and recovery. Handbags made at Unshattered are not only 'Made in America' and in step with the 'maker movement', this innovative nonprofit social enterprise is a business model of what could 'become' for so many individuals in our society that are looking for re-purposing, re-cycling, re-connecting and re-building. It is not about just about a product, it is about the process. A creative process. A process of healing in community. Unshattered points us in the right direction. 

Visit the shop in its current location at 1064 Route 82, Hopewell Junction, read more about Unshattered online and browse the handbags that can be ordered at

If you want to see Unshattered handbags carried in Beacon shops, tell them to get some in stock!

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Beacon Bits - Creating Community

For years, I have passed the Eat Paint Love Studio on Main Street; its close proximity to Rite Aid, All You Knead Bread and Yanarella Dance Studio has made it an ideal parking spot, and despite its popularity, I've successfully parallel-parked there many times! (I owe the efficient parallel-parking skills to growing up, learning how to drive and passing my driver's test in Brooklyn.) So back in September during Pride of Beacon Day, I spoke to the women who run the studio and got a better idea about how the painting parties work and I decided that I would host a painting party for some of the local volunteers who work with Puppies Behind Bars at the local correctional facilities (namely, Downstate and Fishkill, both in Beacon.) Volunteering to spend time with Labrador retrievers who are being raised in the facilities to become service dogs for veterans and first responders is so rewarding, that I have done it for five years, while some of the volunteers have taken puppies into the community on outings for over a decade. I felt that we could connect and share some time together around the holidays and proceeded with planning the event with the studio and with the help of another volunteer. I made the decision to host the party so that we could paint multiple canvases filled with puppies and gift them to the office in New York City. It felt like it would be a gift all around -- time to relax with other like-minded volunteers and something to share with the staff at the organization who value volunteers and deserve some home-made holiday gifts to show how much they are thought of and appreciated.
While the plan was for seven volunteers to meet up on Sunday, December 1st, the event was sidelined because of snow and ice that would detract from the festivity. Luckily, we were able to come up with an alternate date of Saturday, December 21st and all the original attendees were still able to fit it into their existing pre-holiday rush schedules. The event was meant to be two hours, but lasted over three hours! The time was mostly spent on painting (and not eating the brunch-like goodies that were brought along for rewards in much the same way that puppies get kibble for following commands.) With the assistance of the capable instructions given by Lorelei, our teacher for the day, who used a model painting inspired by a photo of a puppy sent to demonstrate what the subject of the paintings would be, the group of seven amateur artists produced a rendering that was recognizable as a Lab puppy with a variety of colors, distinct style and character that each person brought to the canvas. It was a delight, despite the self-criticism and lack of confidence along the way, but when the party was over, everyone felt accomplished since the difficulty of the painting was rated a '9' on a 10-point scale. 
The festive spirit in the studio led to pondering what the office staff would think of the paintings, but our hope was that it could raise spirits for them as it did for us, and if the development officer chose to, he could feel inspired to use them as a fundraiser of sorts. The paintings were packed up and brought to the office in NYC before the end of the year in keeping with the season for holiday gifting. On a 10-point scale, the reception of the paintings and overall success of the painting party was at least a '9', on average, and in my eyes, a perfect 10!

Food for thought: A group of adults with a common purpose and a pre-established connection can be brought closer together during a painting party, like the one that was organized at Eat Paint Love Studio this holiday season for the PBB volunteers. I would hope that the 'real' artists or skeptics in town would not minimize the power of creativity for those who are not talented or destined to produce valuable art. I would also hope that more people who are curious would do as I did, and stop in and talk with the women about organizing an event; they are very helpful and always available throughout the preparation for the event and right up to the pick up of the paintings  Participating in a painting party is a reminder that free form play is good for adults. Art education and exploring new skills using the arts is not just apt curriculum for children. While painting studios may be filled with birthday party celebrations or completion of scouting projects for a badge for the younger crowd, the value of bringing together diverse neighbors, or city council members who do not know each other outside of the context of work meetings could be explored. The field of 'art therapy' does not need to be limited to clinical settings. The therapeutic art process of shared time and space of parallel play with other human beings is a gift all its own. Think about what painting party you would like to host this year -- what would your subject be, what would you do with the finished products, what community do you want to build? If you can think about it, you can paint it!

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Beacon Bits -- Frozen

After the first snow and ice of the season, I witnessed an unfortunate accident that turned into an escapade for a runaway kitty who was on the way to the vet for a post-surgery visit on Wednesday, December 4th. I was taking my own cat for an emergency visit for gastrointestinal symptoms and as I was parking by the Salvation Army, I noted my friends getting out of their car with their cat carrier and as the gentleman went over the icy snowbank by the curb, he went down and hit the carrier, which released the door. The cat, Minna, got out of the cage and was face-to-face with a dog who was leaving the vet's office. Minna ran down Main Street looking for an opening or doorway that she could enter. When she got to the Yankee Clipper Diner, she found a crawl space opening and disappeared into its cold, dark cavernous space, that appeared to only have the one entry without an exit on the other side, which faced the parking lot. I was concerned about my friend and hurriedly got out of the car and across the street to tuck my carrier into the vet's office, careful not to slip and fall on the icy snow banks that lined Main Street and went to investigate if my friend was OK and to see if there was anything I might be able to do to help. There was already a small crowd gathering around the portal where Minna had entered; fortunately my friend was not hurt and he and his wife were determined to retrieve the cat. 

Needless to say, there was a scurry of activity. Calls were made to the local fire and police departments, and the DCSPCA to no avail. The veterinarian's staff got a towel sprayed with something meant to calm and attract cats, food, and a Have-a-Heart trap positioned by the opening. But after several hours in the cold and dark, my friends had to warm themselves up, and went home after telling the owners of the diner what had been going on outside their establishment. They repeated the pattern of going back and forth to the diner on a daily and nightly basis, without luck, and with a resolve that they might have to accept what might happen that seemed to be out of their control.

Fast forward to Monday, December 16th, after days of checking in and hearing updates that Minna was holding her own in her fortress but was not giving into the enticement to enter the Have-a-Heart tray, the diner's electrician who was doing some work in the basement of the diner knew that there was a window that opened into that space, and was highly motivated to become the hero of the day by retrieving the cat, which he was successful in doing! At last, Minna was recovered and returned home to my friends.

Anyone passing the Yankee Clipper Diner during the 13 days that Minna was camping out would have seen the traps and wondered what was happening. Everyone who heard about the adventure of a cat who needed rescuing did ponder why the story had lasted as long as it did without a fireman, policeman, or animal rescue team being available and/or able to assist in retrieving Minna from her hiding place. But the happy ending to the story is that Minna was returned to her original home upstate to my friend's niece since she had not adjusted to the transfer to her new home in Beacon with her cat mate who had adjusted nicely. Minna did not want to move to Beacon and she seemed to hold out long enough to get 'home again' and to be the only cat in her original household, or so it seemed that she had been rewarded with what she may have longed for and missed. No one really knew how the story would end, but there seemed to be a sense of community around the event, with curious and supportive people who were interested in Minna's and my friend's welfare during a taxing time; everyone was pleased there was a happy ending.

Great diner food and 3good service with kind owners who care about community

Food for thought: Despite the happy ending, it is the beginning of this story that caught my attention:  the fact is that snow and ice removal on Main Street is sub-standard. While the ordinance requires that shop owners are responsible for shoveling, it is done imperfectly since there is a pile of snow that borders every curb, and narrow cut-aways make a way to the street as if they magically line up with car spaces or car doors opening. When the snow and ice melt and re-freeze, it leaves a mound of snow and a small opening that may not be reachable when cars park and passengers are ready to egress from the car. This dilemma, with the influx of tourists, and more locals shopping in the stores throughout the week during the winter months, is how to keep everyone safe and the method of shoveling needs some adjusting. Children, animals, elderly people or those with disabilities, and even a young person in a hurry or texting while traversing the streets is at risk for falling on the sidewalks, which could make shop owners liable and equally vulnerable. A community attitude would take this issue seriously and the new mayor and city council members could approach it with a win-win solution-oriented fix to a problem that will not go away on its own. And we do not need a Hallmark movie about rescuing stray cats to get that accomplished!

Monday, December 2, 2019

Beacon Bits--Urban, Suburban, Rural or International?

It really has been fourteen months since my last post and I have had it on my mind since last March when I was pondering what has happened to the Beacon community with its major construction along the 9D corridor and Main Street. It was only when some neighbors mentioned the blog and it had been the second time that someone noted its absence that I began to think about writing once again. So much had happened that came between me and my musings, but I am starting to feel the need for closure so I thought I'd pick up right where my thoughts had left me last spring. 

I guess I was feeling annoyed with the influx of so many trendsetters last spring that I looked at the gentrification occurring in Yonkers and thought that if the new Beaconites wanted a place to live along the Hudson River, there were more opportunities closer to the city to live than to choose Beacon.
New buildings on Main Street near MTA in Yonkers

I sensed a loss of community because there seemed to be so many new faces, reckless drivers and lots of strangers visiting town to imbibe in the countless breweries while sightseeing and acting as though they were not interested in growing roots. I projected some of my own frustration about not having as much time to spend visiting the shops that I would frequent and engaging in conversation and activity in the many groups I remained a friend. Daily commuting and other responsibilities were taking their toll on my joie de vivre.

Then I realized that the groups I supported were still going strong. The movie theater, Story Screen, opened long after I had originally donated some seed money to the revival of the Beacon Theater. The Howland Cultural Center was having its celebration and recognition of its leadership after 40 years of existing as the arts hub and "jewel" on Main Street. The Howland Chamber Music Circle was still inviting the best of the best musicians to perform intimately with an appreciative audience. The Beacon Historical Society, in its new home at 17 South Avenue, was making new inroads with those who wanted to know more about the past history of a river town before rushing to its future. The Beacon Sloop Club was still singing and hosting festivals and sailing the Woodie once again. And these are some of the groups that create community amongst neighbors, new and old, so who was I to judge?

So the question of whether Beacon is urban--the new borough of Manhattan, or suburban--just a 70-minute express ride on the MTA train for new commuters, or rural--one of the better places to find community supported agriculture choices nearby, or international--the place that those visiting NYC must put on their list when needing a break from the Big Apple, may not need to be decided since Beacon may be the projective screen so that it will be whatever a person would like it to be. 

While recently attending a meeting of the Beacon Historical Society featuring native Beaconite Patricia Schultz who wrote "1,000 Places to See Before You Die" and "1,000 Places to See in the United States and Canada Before You Die", it was clear that Beacon could make the list in the next edition of the book with all of the praises she sang for Beacon's place in the Hudson River. I think I would second that.

Food for Thought: I guess my desire to start blogging again is born from the adage 'absence makes the heart grow fonder'. The absence of the sense of community is something to rectify. Community is about connection. Connection is about social support. Social support is more than networking with others. It is about feeling nurtured, sharing information and having a sense of belonging. Beacon offers many activities and opportunities for connection; it is time to start exploring some of the old and new ways to meet and greet new neighbors. 

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Beacon Bits - Get Jazzy

A Concert of Jazz Standards

performed by

When:       October 13, 2018 
                      4:30 PM

Where:        Saint Andrew’s 
                Episcopal Church

17 South Avenue 
Beacon, NY 12508

Reception to follow

St. Andrew’s is a member of BeaconArts

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Come, September!

September Trio 

Sara Heaton – Voice 
Yalin Chi - Piano 
Sam Ross – Clarinet

Come join us for a well-crafted Second Saturday concert with selections  from Handel, Strauss, Debussy, Schubert, Verdi, Sondheim, Bassi and Villalobos  on September 8, 2018 at 4pm in the sanctuary of  St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, 15 South Ave, Beacon NY. Reception to follow.

Sara Heaton – Voice  
American soprano Sara Heaton, praised for her “gleaming lyricism” by Opera News Online and her “sweet, pure soprano” by the Chicago Tribune, enjoys a rich career on the opera and concert stage. She has performed with The Metropolitan Opera, The Santa Fe Opera, Chicago Opera Theater, Opera Boston, Boston Baroque, Odyssey Opera, American Opera Projects, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Boston Midsummer Opera, Opera in the Heights, the Xalapa Orchestra, The Greater Bridgeport Symphony, The Santa Fe Symphony, Symphony by the Sea, North Country Chamber Players, and Walden Chamber Players, among others. Sara is currently a member of The Metropolitan Opera Chorus.Sara made her Metropolitan Opera solo debut in the lauded 2018 production of Cendrillon as a Spirit and Servant. 

Yalin Chi – Piano  
Originally from Beijing, China, Yalin Chi made her d├ębut with the Central Opera Orchestra before moving to the United States to study at Interlochen Arts Academy. Yalin has performed at venues including Alice Tully Hall, Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, Kumho Art Hall in Seoul, Korea, and ZhongShan Music Hall in Beijing China. As an orchestral musician, Yalin regularly performs with Albany Symphony, New Jersey Festival Orchestra, and has held the principal keyboard position at the Hudson Valley Philharmonic since 2014. Yalin studied with Seymour Lipkin and Jerome Lowenthal at the Juilliard School where she earned both undergraduate and Masters of Music degrees, and continued studies with Peter Frankl at Yale School of Music before joining the West Point Band in 2008. 

Sam Ross – Clarinet  
Clarinetist Sam Ross is an active chamber and orchestral musician in the greater New York Area. Sam joined the West Point Band in September of 2012 as their E-flat clarinetist. He performs with the Academy Wind Quintet which is also part of the band. Originally from Russellville, Arkansas, Sam earned his Bachelor of Music in clarinet performance from the University of Arkansas, where he studied with Nophachai Cholthitchanta, and his Master of Music from the University of North Texas, where he studied with John Scott and Daryl Coad. While at North Texas, Sam performed with and recorded multiple CDs with the North Texas Wind Symphony. Following his master’s program, he began studies with Greg Raden, principal clarinetist of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. In 2011, Sam won third prize in the International Clarinet Association Young Artist Competition in Northridge, California.